How to Write Low-Cost Mobile Apps and Mobile Tools

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In other countries what apps you can build is be controlled by carrier.

On feature phone phones you can build apps based on: • WAP based apps o Originally used WML (simplified HTML) o Now been replaced by HTML however browser capability is limited.

• SMS based application

• SIM toolkit – can only installed by operator approval on GSM phones

• J2ME

It’s questionable whether trying to do something on these old phones is worthwhile.

In Uruguay phones get passed down, so lots of old phones

Cheaper to fix a phone in these regions than get a new phone

Feature phones also are more power efficient and more attractive in areas where it’s not easy to charge your phone

In India there’s a Android based tablet that’s a ~$40 tablet

Cell phones are also subsidized by carriers in other countries

In some areas 20% of disposable income goes towards mobile plans

Tons of pilot projects that use voice calls or SMS, but hard to scale because the cost of the calls or SMS

HIV medication reminder app was very successful as a pilot, but hard to scale without subsidies

Could community wireless be an option?

In cities in Africa issues around people getting a data plan.

SMS was tough because of the cost of sending an SMS and because people don’t know how many SMS messages using an app would take made the cost unpredictable and scary.

Zero Facebook project resulted in lots of people getting data plans. Facebook first tried the SIM toolkit, but it didn’t work that well.

Empesa built a SIM toolkit app for mobile payment, which was very successful. It was run by the carriers

Lots of skepticism around mobile apps in the developing world. It really depends what your trying to do.

Thomas has found that it’s either SMS or smartphone apps, but nothing in between

In Africa, carrier CSR projects are local.

Problem with community wi-fi is the sustainability issue, because how does the uplink get paid especially with competition from cheap data plans.

Issues around people understanding how to use their data plans

Latin America is still mainly feature phones

There is an expectation that smartphones will replace feature phones over the next few years.

Blackberries have done very well with urban poor in Latin America due to the messenger capabilities versus SMS

Kenya has a set of phones that use a Samsung proprietary operating system

Lots of fragmentation, SMS is broadly used but expensive and limited

What’s App has taken off in Africa as an SMS replacement

In East Africa, Facebook is mainly used for chat as a replacement for SMS

Praekelt Foundation does lots of research on mobile solutions for development

Ushahidi did very well in Kenya. Built by Kenyan. Based on FrontlineSMS. You plug your phone to a laptop and it uses SMS as the network protocol.

Using SMS for surveys

FrontlineMedic is based on FrontlineSMS

350.org

FrontlineSMS is very promising technology for building apps.

FrontlineSMS is building an app development framework.

Mobileactive.org tracks mobile projects in developing world.

GSM World shows you what operators work in what countries.

GSM Arena – has information on all phones out there and their capabilities

MMS may be another option to transport data, however MMS support is fragmented

ODK for building survey applications

Easier for operators to give free data plans to certain URLs than giving free data to specific short-codes.

Security needs to be taken into account when using SMS because traffic is unencrypted and it’s routed through one point

In some places giving out handsets with apps pre-installed is easier than getting data plans on existing phones.

Every handset manufacturer, except Chinese, has a CSR program that donates phones

Also every operator has a CSR/Foundation that gives phones or plans

Erickson does a lot of CSR programs

Use gateway companies, like Clickatell, for SMS campaigns

E-Ink Android phones/tablets which are more power efficient might be very promising. Onyx has one.